Let’s travel to Scotland and enjoy a traditional Selkie legend paired with a Selkie-friendly recipe for Scotch Eggs.
But first… what is a Selkie?
On the cold, northern shores of Scotland you’ll find smoke-grey seals basking on the wet rock, backs glistening with ocean spray. On an ordinary day the seals might sit for a time then slip into the water, hardly making a sound as they go about … well… whatever it is that seals normally do. But when the light is dim or fog blankets the horizon, some report having seen the seal skins drop away, revealing men and women of great beauty, whose big, brown eyes give their gaze a look of dewy grace.
These are Selkies – merfolk who can shed their skins and walk about on land. But there’s a catch with the Selkie’s freedom: if they lose their skin, they cannot return to their natural form. Instead, they are trapped on land, destined to remain human until they discover their skin again.
A note on the Biology of a Selkie:
Unlike mermaids, selkies are either head to toe seals OR head to toe humans. To become human, they slip off their seal skins and store them somewhere safe until they’re ready to go home. (Totally normal.)
Over the centuries there have been many a marriage between Selkie and humans, most of which begin with a human stealing the Selkie’s skin and ending abruptly whenever the Selkie finds their skin. You see, no Selkie-human marriage can fully satisfy a Selkie. As soon as they find their skin, the homesick creature rushes into the ocean for good.
The legend of the Seal Hunter & the Selkies
In a small Scottish village, there once was a hard working man who did not believe in Selkies. In this way, he was able to make a living hunting seals and selling their skins with not even a prick to his conscience.
One day he snuck up on a particularly fine seal and made a stab at it with his carved hunting knife. Though the blade pierced the seal’s side, the creature lurched away, into the water, the knife disappearing with it. The man let out a cry of dismay: it would cost many week’s savings to purchase another as strong and as fine as the hunting blade he’d lost. He returned home sadly, mourning the loss with his wife.
Late that night there was a knock at the cottage door. When the hunter opened it, he discovered a gentleman, dressed in fine clothes.
The stranger bowed deeply. “Are you the seal hunter of Orkney Islands?”
“Ay,” nodded the hunter, straightening his ragged shirt.
“Then I would like to place an order of a dozen seal skins.” An order of a dozen seal skins would feed the man’s family for a very long time. The gentleman continued: “However, I need the skins before this night is over.”
The hunter dropped his chin to his chest. “As much as I would love to help you, I do not have that many seal skins. Even if I hadn’t lost my knife earlier today, I have little hope of gathering so many skins in one hunt.”
“In that case, I will lead you to a place where you’ll find more seals than you could ever imagine, and perhaps even a blade worthy of your hand.” said the gentleman.
The man eagerly followed the gentleman to a high cliff overlooking the sea. But when the gentleman invited him to step to the edge, the hunter became afraid.
“I mean you no harm,” the gentleman said and gestured to the overlook again. “You will find all the seals you can dream of at the bottom of this cliff.
As the man looked down the sheer cliff, he saw nothing but the moonlight on the empty waves, salt spray against stone. He stepped closer to get a better look.
At that moment the gentleman wrapped his arms around the hunter and dove over the cliff. They fell like shooting stars, splashing into the ocean.
Down they continued, at great speed, until they reached an enormous castle on the ocean floor.
The hunter had been holding his breath but now found he couldn’t hold on any longer. Gasping, he was shocked to find he could breathe under water as easily as he had on land. The gentleman released the hunter as they swam up to an iridescent hall made of mother of pearl. In the glow the hunter saw he was surrounded by hundreds of Selkies. He tried raised his hands as if in defense, only to find he had flippers where his hands had been. Turning to the gentleman, he saw that he, too, had become a Selkie.
The Selkies swam closer. “We mean you no harm,” they said, “In fact, we need your help.”
They led him to a side chamber where a Selkie was laying his back, gasping for breath.
“Our king is wounded and only you can cure him.”
The hunter saw his blade sticking into the Selkie’s side. “I am no doctor, I know no medicine to cure him.”
“You are the only one who can help,” they insisted. “Remove your blade and press upon the wound.”
The hunter did as he was told and pressed his flippers onto the wound. To his surprise, the wound closed and the King’s breath steadied. They thanked him and, without further ado, the gentleman brought him up through the waters, the way they had come.
At the cottage door, the gentleman handed the hunter a heavy purse. “Please consider the Selkie, my good man, and save your blade for other purposes.”
The man peered inside the purse and found it full of gold. His hunting days were indeed behind him.
“Thank you,” he murmured in wonder, but when he looked up the gentleman was already gone. He never hurt another seal again, but often sat at the cliff, looking down in wonder at the sea. Whenever he saw a seal swimming below, it seemed to him their big brown eyes gave him a knowing look, almost as though they were smiling up at him.
Story adapted from Education Scotland
Snacking with Selkies: Let’s make Scotch Eggs!
I chose to pair Scotch Eggs with my retelling of The Hunter & The Selkies because Scotch Eggs are something a poor seal hunter could take to strengthen him on the hunt. Often enjoyed cold on picnics, they are considered to be “a poor man’s lunch.” So says Neil Chambers from the Handmade Scotch Egg Company, who goes on to say they’re “made from left-over meat and eggs, quite handy because they were so easily transported.”
Let’s dive deeper …
The original Scotch egg is found all over Scotland and Britain. History tells us the Scotch egg was most likely based off of a medieval north Indian recipe for eggs wrapped in spiced lamb (nargisi kofta) and was invented in (close to) its current form by Fortnum & Mason, a department store in London, way back in 1738. According to Larousse Gastronomique, a Scotch egg is made like so:
The finest sausagemeat or minced (ground) meat is wrapped around a hard-boild egg, which is coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried until golden.”
Since The Hunter & The Selkies honors the precious life of our friends in the animal kingdom, I chose to adapt a vegetarian recipe for Scotch Eggs. While there are many, many possibilities, I opted for the falafel scotch egg. The chickpea coating has big flavor without being spicy and gets a springtime boost from the addition of green onion and fresh cilantro.
Move over deviled eggs – this is just the thing to slice up and serve at a potluck.
A few tips for making Falafel Scotch Eggs
In my experience, this is a relatively straightforward recipe – as long as you set yourself up for success.
1. Cook the eggs a little shorter than usual for perfect scotch eggs. Remember, they’re going to keep cooking when they get deep fried. Put them in a pot of cold water, then bring to a boil. Set the timer for 5 minutes and remove into ice water!
2. Save time by building the falafel coating while the eggs cool off. While the eggs cool, saute the onion with the garlic and spices until nice and soft, then blitz it together with the remaining ingredients (the breadcrumbs get stirred in at the end).
Ava loves adding ingredients to the food processor – she’s helped me in the kitchen ever since she could get her little fingers around food!
3. Lightly oil your hands and flatten the falafel mixture. This will make it easier to wrap around the eggs.
Don’t worry too much about perfection when working with a little one – it’s more important they get to help!
4. Make sure you divide the falafel mixture into 8 even portions. We used a scale – but you could eyeball it. This will help the falafel look the same and cook evenly.
5. Really press the sesame seeds onto the Scotch Egg. You’d be surprised how many fall off the eggs during the cooking process, even when you do.
Watch a storyteller share a version of the Seal Hunter & The Selkies at Education Scotland
Discover a list of other Selkie movies & books at Selkie Stories: From Sea Songs to Tragic Romances
Watch the trailer for the beautiful animation Song of the Sea.
Learn more about the history of Scotch Eggs at Historic Foodie